Friday, February 9, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, February 9, 2001

Makua: small step in the right direction

In its crusade to win community acceptance of live-fire training in Makua Valley, the Army so far has played its hand poorly.

Essentially, the Army has a choice. It can either go all-out to win a complete change in the hearts and minds of the community — winning them over to a sincere belief that the Army really will malama the valley as it trains there to defend our nation.

Or it can dig in its heels, post guards and barbed wire, and resume firing despite the opposition of civilians.

It has conducted its campaign so far, however, in a delicate middle ground, asserting complete safety and admirable stewardship while refusing to submit information comprehensive enough to make citizens confident of such assertions.

There are many hard-core opponents, of course, for whom no kind of environmental impact statement would change their minds. But as long as the Army refuses to provide one, that helps the opponents to rally more moderate citizens to their cause.

The Army instead went to great lengths to get the community to accept a far less comprehensive environmental assessment, and when it finally recognized that wouldn’t work, it volunteered to upgrade that to a "supplemental environmental assessment." Whatever that is, opponents aren’t satisfied.

The Army hasn’t figured out yet that this pattern of incremental surrender is an unwinnable game. Each time it gives an inch, those who demand a mile will sense victory is that much closer.

If the Army wants to train in Makua with the blessing of its neighbors, it must abandon its paternalistic tone — after all, it’s counterintuitive that blasting a lot of ordnance in a sensitive environment can be good for it — and start honestly trying to provide some clarity.

A full environmental impact statement would make clear that Makua in the hands of the Army will never be a Disneyland.

On the other hand, it probably receives better care from the Army than it would have from the state or private owners. And the Army’s ability to provide live-fire training there makes our fighting men and women safer and stronger, provides jobs in the community, and helps keep the military presence in Hawaii viable.

A full environmental impact statement would balance these factors against each other.

In other words, full disclosure will help the community make a clear-eyed decision.

Makua doesn’t have to end up another Kahoolawe or Vieques. But until the Army treats its Makua neighbors with absolute honesty and openness, that’s where it’s headed.

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